Tuesday, March 8, 2011

The myth that Planned Parenthood helps reduce abortions

I've already written about why Planned Parenthood should be stripped of federal government funding: (1) taxpayers should not be forced to support the abortion industry; (2) Planned Parenthood has shown itself to be thoroughly corrupt (including consistently aiding and abetting underage sex trafficking); (3) Planned Parenthood does not need taxpayer dollars to offer its non-abortion services, and in any case those services are better provided by other organizations, to which funds will be re-directed if only Planned Parenthood is cut off (via the Pence Amendment).

Planned Parenthood and its defenders claim that the abortion provider actually helps reduce abortions by promoting contraception and sex education. I've heard members of Congress boldly (and ridiculously) say this, presumably without first looking at a shred of evidence -- because all the evidence suggests the opposite.

As taxpayer funding of Planned Parenthood has risen dramatically in recent years, the number of abortions the group performs has risen at a correspondingly dramatic rate. In 2009 (the last year for which we have data), abortions at Planned Parenthood increased to a new record for the 15th consecutive year. More funding has meant more and more abortions at Planned Parenthood, defying the nationwide trend of less abortions (after a peak of 1.6 million abortions per year in the U.S. in 1990, we are down to 1.2).

This should be no surprise. To subsidize Planned Parenthood is to subsidize a highly-profitable industry that makes money by selling the product of abortion. What did people expect? "[Planned Parenthood's] primary focus is abortion and it is big business," writes former Planned Parenthood clinic director Abby Johnson. She continues:
In 2009, Planned Parenthood had $1.1 billion, and $63 million left over after expenses (see page 29 of its annual report).

No wonder Planned Parenthood has established an organization called the Consortium of Abortion Providers, the primary goal of which is to turn every nonabortion Planned Parenthood clinic into an abortion-providing clinic. Planned Parenthood also recently issued a directive mandating that all of its affiliates provide abortions by 2013.
Planned Parenthood defenders respond that under the Hyde Amendment, (almost) no federal money can (directly) pay for abortions. But by heavily funding the nation's leading performer of abortions, federal money at least indirectly supports abortion on a large scale. This is absolutely clear. Johnson explains:
[O]f course taxpayer money helps to finance abortions at Planned Parenthood clinics. ...

Think for a moment how much it costs to pay for someone to perform the abortion, other medical staff for support, their health benefits packages and malpractice insurance to cover all of them, and then multiply it by more than 650,000 [the number of Planned Parenthood abortions in 2008 and 2009].

As clinic director, I saw how money received by Planned Parenthood affiliate clinics all went into one pot at the end of the day -- it isn't divvied up and directed to specific services.
Couldn't Planned Parenthood's birth control efforts counteract its abortion promotion? The numbers show otherwise (see above). Liberal pundit Kirsten Powers, who worked in the Clinton administration, exposes the "birth control myth" in a recent column. She writes:
During the recent debate over whether to cut off government funding to Planned Parenthood, the organization claimed that its contraceptive services prevent a half-million abortions a year. Without their services, the group's officials insist, more women will get abortions.

I'll admit I bought the argument—it makes intuitive sense—and initially opposed cutting off funding for precisely that reason.

Then I did a little research.

Turns out, a 2009 study by the journal Contraception found, in a 10-year study of women in Spain, that as overall contraceptive use increased from around 49 percent to 80 percent, the elective abortion rate more than doubled. This doesn't mean that access to contraception causes more abortion—though some believe that—but that it doesn't necessarily reduce it.

In the U.S., the story isn't much different. A January 2011 fact sheet by the pro-abortion rights Guttmacher Institute listed all the reasons that women who have had an abortion give for their unexpected pregnancy, and not one of them is lack of access to contraception. In fact, 54 percent of women who had abortions had used a contraceptive method, if incorrectly, in the month they got pregnant. For the 46 percent who had not used contraception, 33 percent had perceived themselves to be at low risk for pregnancy; 32 percent had had concerns about contraceptive methods; 26 percent had had unexpected sex, and 1 percent had been forced to have sex. Not one fraction of 1 percent said they got pregnant because they lacked access to contraception. Some described having unexpected sex, but all that can be said about them is that they are irresponsible, not that they felt they lacked access to contraception.

Lack of knowledge of contraception also isn't a reason that American women get abortions. Guttmacher reported that only 8 percent of women who undergo abortions have never used a method of birth control.

But what is truly astonishing about the Guttmacher statistics is that they are completely unchanged from a decade ago.

In the year 2000, Guttmacher experts reported: "Forty-six percent of women [seeking abortions] had not used a contraceptive method in the month they conceived, mainly because of perceived low risk of pregnancy and concerns about contraception. More than half of women obtaining abortions in 2000 (54 percent) had been using a contraceptive method during the month they became pregnant."

These are exactly the same as the 2011 numbers.

Over this time period, the U.S. government has funneled billions of dollars to Planned Parenthood, in large part because the organization claims to provide services to avoid unplanned pregnancies—a laudable goal. Yet despite a robust budget—Planned Parenthood reported a total annual revenue of $1.1 billion in its last financial filing—the organization has done absolutely nothing to change the fundamental dynamics of the United States' abortion rate. ...

To preserve its federal subsidy, Planned Parenthood continues to claim that without its contraception services the abortion rate will go up. This deception smacks of a fleecing of taxpayers in an effort to promote an ideological agenda, rather than a sincere effort to help women plan families. ...

Planned Parenthood officials are allowed to believe whatever they want and to pursue whatever goals they choose. But their dishonesty in how they present their organization to the public, along with ignoring basic statistics about their area of expertise, makes you wonder what else they are hiding. It's also hard to deny that they are at core a blindly ideological organization, not a run-of-the-mill charitable nonprofit.

Whatever you think of abortion rights, this is not the kind of organization that taxpayers should be funding.
Update:  Powers made an error in her column, which she has addressed. But her conclusion is still well supported. "In fact, a look at the existing research on contraception use and abortion rates indicates that Powers's argument was stronger than she probably realizes," explains Dr. Michael New. Read his analysis.